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EU summit updates: Leaders agree to expand sanctions on Iran

Published April 17, 2024last updated April 18, 2024

The 27 EU leaders agreed to widen the scope of sanctions on Iran, specifically targeting its drone and missile producers, at the end of day 1 of the summit.

European Council President Charles Michel
EU leaders including European Council President Charles Michel have met to discuss foreign policy at the start of their two-day summit in BrusselsImage: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

The two-day EU summit begins Wednesday in Brussels with discussions on foreign affairs, including the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, tensions between Israel and Iran and the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the assembled EU leaders via video link and urged them to provide his country with more air defense systems. 

The bloc's competitiveness in the face of growing competition from the United States and China will be at the center of European leaders' discussions on Thursday.

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Skip next section EU to widen sanctions on Iran
April 18, 2024

EU to widen sanctions on Iran

The EU will widen sanctions against Iran following the country's weekend attack on Israel, European Council President Charles Michel told reporters in the early hours of Thursday morning after the first day of a two-day summit of EU leaders in Brussels.

"The idea is to target the companies that are needed for the drones, for the missiles," he said. The finer details are yet to be worked out, he added.

The EU will take "further restrictive measures against Iran, notably in relation to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and missiles," the European Council said in a statement.

The statement also called “on Iran and its proxies to cease all attacks" and urged all sides to exercise “utmost restraint and to refrain from any action that may increase tensions in the region.”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has tasked his staff with drawing up new measures but expanding sanctions, however, is not a simple step — the EU has already targeted those responsible for making drones that Iran has sold to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine. 

The idea is to expand that list to include missiles, although there is no evidence that Iran has sold missiles to Russia. Borrell said that proxy forces backed by Iran in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria could also be targeted with sanctions.

Skip next section Zelenskyy: Israel showed Ukraine's 'real need' is aerial defense
April 17, 2024

Zelenskyy: Israel showed Ukraine's 'real need' is aerial defense

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told leaders in Brussels of Russia's overnight cruise missile attack on the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv. 

He said more than 60 people were injured and 17 were known to have been killed

Zelenskyy said this was "what's happening every day" in Ukraine and that it "reflects our current key need — the need for air defense." 

"Here in Ukraine, in our part of Europe, unfortunately, we do not have the level of defense that we all saw in the Middle East a few days ago. When, thanks to the combined power of the allies, they managed to shoot down almost all the missiles and drones that attacked Israel," Zelenskyy said. 

He mentioned and lauded Germany's decision to send additional Patriot air defense missiles to Ukraine, thanking German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and saying, "This will really help." 

He cited electricity shortfalls and Russia targeting key Ukrainian infrastructure, saying only air defense could counter this.

He, therefore, asked European leaders for assistance with other air defense weaponry and with deliveries of artillery ammunition, weapons for soldiers, vehicles, drones, and "everything that helps hold the front line." 

Zelenskyy also called on European leaders to coordinate with the United States, saying Ukraine was "actively working" with Washington to try to ensure a "proper decision" on military assistance for Ukraine cleared Congress. 

Skip next section Scholz questions IRGC sanctions, urges Israeli restraint
April 17, 2024

Scholz questions IRGC sanctions, urges Israeli restraint

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he believed more legal checks would be needed before the EU could seek to directly sanction Iran's Revolutionary Guards

His comments followed Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo supporting the idea as Wednesday's EU leaders's summit began in Brussels. 

Scholz also appealed for a measured response from Israel after Iran's weekend attack.

"For us, it's important that this moment is used for a further de-escalation," Scholz said, advising Israel to use its successful repulsion of the attack with the help of allies "to strengthen its own position in the entire region." 

On this basis, he urged Israel not to respond with "a massive attack of its own," which he said would not be appropriate.

Scholz also called on fellow European leaders not to lose sight of Ukraine at the summit. He said "we want to encourage" other members to consider following Germany's lead on sending Patriot missile defense systems to Kyiv, saying this particular system was "immediately useful." 

"Now it is about doing it quickly and not at some point in the future," Scholz said.  

Germany to send new Patriot air defense system to Ukraine

Skip next section Macron: EU should extend sanctions on Iran
April 17, 2024

Macron: EU should extend sanctions on Iran

The European Union should expand its sanctions against the Iranian regime, French President Emmanuel Macron said ahead of an EU leaders' summit in Brussels.

He said sanctions should specifically target entities involved in the production of drones and missiles.

"Our duty is to expand these sanctions," Macron said.

European Union leaders meeting on Wednesday and Thursday in Brussels are set to discuss stepping up sanctions against Tehran after Iran's drone and missile attack on Israel.

Skip next section Summit report author says EU faces last chance to compete with US and China
April 17, 2024

Summit report author says EU faces last chance to compete with US and China

The European Union faces a final opportunity to take the steps needed to compete effectively with the United States, China and other rivals, according to a 147-page report that EU leaders will discuss at the two-day summit starting Wednesday.

In his report, former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta said the single market that allows the free movement of goods, services, capital and people within the EU is too small.

He argued that it should be bigger and include energy, telecoms, finance, and defense. These industries are currently fragmented with different national rules that make it difficult for companies to scale up. 

"The stalling that is taking place is at such a level that we cannot afford to wait. It is relative to the United States mainly, but also compared with the other large economies," he told a news conference with European Council President Charles Michel, who chairs the European Council summit.

"It means this is a last opportunity and last window that is open, and we need to seize this opportunity," Letta continued.

At the heart of Letta's report was the idea that geopolitical tensions and the rise of protectionism threaten Europe's economic security and that scale is key to moving into new green and digital technologies

Skip next section Von der Leyen demands 'European awakening' on defense
April 17, 2024

Von der Leyen demands 'European awakening' on defense

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Europe must take the "next leap forward" on defense in the next five years as it faces threats from an axis of authoritarian powers. 

Speaking at a defense and security conference in Brussels before the EU summit, she pointed to a "new league of authoritarians," including Russia, Iran and North Korea, that was looking to "stretch our democracies to breaking point."

"This is why it is time for the European awakening on defense and security," von der Leyen said. 

"The threat of war may not be imminent, but it is not impossible," she added. "We should be prepared. That starts with the urgent need to rebuild, replenish and transform member states' armed forces."

She said the bloc's focus would be on emerging technology. 

"We will focus on innovation to ensure Europe has that edge in the new technologies, which we see being deployed across the world in different conflicts," the EU Commission chief said. 

Skip next section Zelenskyy to address EU leaders
April 17, 2024

Zelenskyy to address EU leaders

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been invited to address the assembled European Union leaders via video link on Wednesday. He is expected to urge Ukraine's allies to provide his country with more air defense systems. 

Earlier on Wednesday, the Ukrainian president called for sufficient resolve and support from Western partners after a Russian missile strike on the northern city of Chernihiv killed at least 14 people.

He said his country lacked "sufficient" air defenses that could have stopped the strike. 

"This would not have happened if Ukraine had received sufficient air defence equipment and if the world's determination to resist Russian terror had been sufficient," Zelenskyy said on social media.

Skip next section What is on the summit agenda?
April 17, 2024

What is on the summit agenda?

The EU summit, originally scheduled to be devoted to a thorough strategic review of the EU's economic competitiveness, has been overshadowed by events in the Middle East. As a result, foreign policy discussions will kick off a two-day EU summit in Brussels.

With Iran's unprecedented attack on Israel raising regional tensions and fears of a wider war, EU leaders will urge "all parties to exercise utmost restraint and refrain from any action that may increase tensions in the region," according to a draft of their summit conclusions.

Earlier, EU top diplomat Josep Borrell said the bloc would also consider further sanctions against Iran.

Leaders should also reiterate their call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and the release of hostages, "as well as increasing humanitarian aid at scale to Palestinians in need." 

Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine is also on the agenda, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expected to address the meeting via video link. He has previously asked allies for more Patriot missile systems.

The European leaders' discussions on Thursday will focus on the bloc's competitiveness in the face of growing competition from the United States and China. 

Former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta is to present a report on the future of the EU's single market, the bloc's economic regulatory system that allows goods, money, services and people to move freely across the 27 EU member states.